soulless_coverI don’t know about you, but I am sick – sick sick sick – of Regencies and paranormals.  I’m not the only one: Lynn wants Italy, I want France, and LinnieGayl wants post-WWI.  But we’re saying much the same thing – we want something different.

So the imminent ballooning of steampunk comes as a breath of fresh…steam.  (It may have come into prominence during the 80s and 90s, according to Wikipedia, but to me, it’s new.)  This genre mixes different elements together – sci-fi-ish technology, occasional fantasy elements, usually an alternate historical setting, and a mystery or romance or two – and the combination is absolutely irresistible.

I first encountered steampunk in the form of Gail Carriger’s Soulless, the beginning of her wonderful Parasol Protectorate.  It’s perhaps steampunk at its “purest,” in that it remains confined to an alternate Victorian setting, and features steam machinery, dirigibles, and many gadgets that could have arisen from the technological advances of the time.  That it has a mystery and romance is an added bonus.

Then I read Katie MacAlister’s Steamed (which is “traditional” steampunk combined with the author’s trademark humour), and M.K. Hobson’s The Native Star and Dru Pagliassotti’s Clockwork Heart.  This is where things got complicated: The Native Star has steam-powered machinery, but the driving force in Ms. Hobson’s alternate America is magic, not technology (although she briefly mentions conflicts between the scientific and magical worlds).  As for Clockwork Heart (a good book and unfortunately out of print), my best stab would be to call it speculative fiction.  Because it really isn’t anything else.

Surveying the Internet, I find it difficult to pinpoint steampunk, and others seem to have the same trouble.  Some books get mentioned repeatedly, like the above, as well as Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke and Zoe Archer’s Blades of the Roses series (both of which I haven’t read).  Others defy reasoning – Frankenstein, as steampunk?  Nuh-uh.

But of the ones I’ve read, this is what they have in common: They ask the age-old question of “What if”, and answer the question compellingly and plausibly.  What if the Victorians had worked with and accepted vampires and werewolves?  What if there was a society that used a giant steam-powered machine to predict caste?

The answer, apparently, lies in the fertile imaginations of our steampunk authors.  Years from now, I’ll be able to nod sagely to grasshoppers and intone, “Yup. I was there when it happened.”  But until then, all I can do is read.  And I’ll do it very happily.

What do you think is considered steampunk?  Have you read any steampunk novels?

– Jean AAR